TV Recap – David Ortiz Studies the Science of Pitching in Latest Episode of “Big Papi’s Places” on ESPN+

ESPN+ has found a format that works for series that dive into the history of our favorite sports. We’ve seen it with Peyton’s Places covering the NFL, we’ve seen it with Abby’s Places covering soccer, Rowdy’s Places covering combat sports and even Eli’s Places which took a look at the world of College Football. Now, Hall of Fame designated hitter David Ortiz, better known as Big Papi, takes on a tour of some baseball history in Big Papi’s Places.

The fourth episode, titled “The Science of Pitching,” sees Ortiz meet with some of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game and even one of the best catchers. Despite Ortiz being selected for the MLB hall of fame, this is a facet of the game with which he is not at all familiar.

David Ortiz is known for making pitchers look bad. So it’s certainly a step outside of his comfort zone when he meets with some very talented pitchers, who worked so hard for so many years to get guys like him to swing and miss. That’s exactly what he does in this episode though as he tries to better understand the technical aspect of pitching.

Ortiz first meets with his former teammate and longtime member of the Boston Red Sox, Tim Wakefield. The unique thing about Wakefield was that he only threw about 70 miles per hour but used his incredible knuckleball to get hitters out.  

Ortiz meets with the former pitcher in the bullpen at Fenway park and the two discuss his playing career. Wakefield shares a funny story about how he learned the knuckleball. He says his dad would use it to try and tire him out when playing catch so that he could go inside for dinner. He would throw knuckleballs at Wakefield so that he would miss them and have to chase them to the fence until he would get too tired to keep going.

Of course, Wakefeild also credits Phil and Joe Niekro, two kunckleballers who helped teach him perfect the tricky pitch. He also explains to Ortiz how to throw the pitch and how it got its name. Turns out, the ball is not actually thrown with the knuckles, but with the fingertips. The way the ball is held, all the hitter can see is the pitcher’s knuckles, which gave the pitch its name.

He even goes as far as to give Big Papi a demonstration and attempts to tach him how to throw the knuckleball. It’s a very informative segment for young players who might be looking to add the pitch to their arsenal. For Ortiz though, things don’t go so well and he ends up throwing what looks like some batting practice. He also tries to catch the knuckleball, which goes a bit better but still makes him look a little silly.

Changing speeds, Ortiz then goes to meet with the owner of one of the greatest fastballs in baseball history: Randy Johnson. The Hall of Fame pitcher explaining how he learned to use his extraordinary hight to his advantage and throw the ball as hard as he did. He also tells a story of how former teammate Tim Raines gave him the nickname The Big Unit, which stuck with him for his whole career.

Johnson actually talks us through how he would pitch to right-handed hitters and the progression of the pitches he would show them. It’s fascinating to baseball fans to hear him talk through this process, especially so many years after his retirement.

Ortiz of course asks him about the infamous bird incident. Johnson once hit a bird, mid-flight, with his fastball, creating a highlight that can be found on just about every blooper reel ever since. That discussion leads to another funny moment where he accidentally threw over the head of John Kruk during an All-Star game.

Ortiz than goes from the mound to behind the plate and heads to Miami to meet with Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The Hall of Fame catcher explains that catchers are basically the quarterbacks of baseball, calling the game and studying the game more than anyone else.

We see highlights of Pudge’s epic career, watching him throw out would-be base-stealers again and again. That leads to a gag featuring Pudge throwing balls at cutouts of some of the greatest “thieves” ever, including Ricky Henderson, Danny Ocean from the Oceans Eleven film franchise, Dom Toretto from the Fast and Furious franchise and of course, the mascot of the Houston Astros.

This episode was far more interesting for baseball fans who want to learn the ins and outs of pitching, than it is for more casual fans who are just looking for some entertainment. That being said, it’s still a lot of fun. Ortiz shares ome laughs with all three guests and the segment featuring Rogriguez is a winner for sure.

You can watch Big Papi’s Places on ESPN+ now. Fans can subscribe to ESPN+ for just $6.99 a month and can cancel at any time.